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Officials keep an eye on McKenzie's course.

Byline: MATT COOPER The Register-Guard

Despite the damage it's done to farmland east of Springfield, the McKenzie River is not an immediate flood threat to Thurston or adjacent county land, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Wednesday.

City, county and state officials and representatives of the corps mobilized early this month after the McKenzie River shifted about one-quarter mile northeast of the Thurston Road-Highway 126 intersection.

The river overwhelmed a buffer there and has scoured away about an acre of farmland, fueling concerns that it might reach Cedar Creek and threaten houses and public facilities as far west as 66th Street within the city limits.

But "there's not an immediate threat of the McKenzie getting into the Cedar Creek basin," Lane County Commissioner Cindy Weeldreyer said Wednesday, summarizing the corps' reports.

Weeldreyer scrapped a planned mid-January public meeting while all parties study potential solutions - and ownership responsibilities - for the recent meandering of the river that's causing concerns along the south bank.

About a mile downstream from the Hendricks boat ramp, the bank along farmer Del Mathews' property is sheer, as if cloven with an ax.

"He's lost a lot of land," river guide Adam Helfrich said, steering a drift boat carrying reporters through the area. "That's all river loam. It'll never be gained."

Like the Corps of Engineers, Helfrich believes the flooding threat to be minimal. But he is encouraged by the discussions sure to develop about riparian habitat and flood plain development.

The corps will help local agencies determine what type of natural event on the McKenzie would threaten the Cedar Creek basin, Weeldreyer said.

All sides hope to avoid a return to the floods of 1996, she said.

Weeldreyer suggested that the county and the city share the sponsorship necessary for the corps to act, once a plan has been determined.

The city is studying two questions, City Engineer Al Peroutka said: whether an overflow into Cedar Creek would skirt the city limits, and whether the city could be liable, given its use of Cedar Creek for drainage.

The city also must address development in the Thurston-area flood plain, which reduces the ability of the land to disperse overflows, City Council President Lyle Hatfield said.

"Development is continuing," he said. "How do we mitigate the impact (of the river) on Thurston and our impact on the flood plain?"

Property owner Eric Gossler has said that one preventive measure would be reinforcing the weakening buffer protecting his 150 acres downstream from the Mathews property.

Gossler fears that a channel bisecting his property could connect the McKenzie to Cedar Creek, threatening city and county homeowners.

He said he would approve using his property for a solution but believes the cost should be shared by the city and affected utility companies.

"I don't feel the property owner should be completely responsible for fixing what's going to affect the entire community," he said.

Officials plan to meet again in late January, and will determine then whether a public meeting is warranted in February.

CAPTION(S):

CHRIS PIETSCH / The Register-Guard Riverbank erosion and possible flooding into the Cedar Creek basin are issues confronting Springfield, state and county agencies.
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Title Annotation:Waterway: The river's shift and its potential flood threat in the Thurston area are under study.; Environment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 27, 2001
Words:527
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